The theologian David L. Schindler once wrote that:
[W]e must first recognize that our being originates as a gift: it has always first been given to us by God, and indeed by others in God. It follows that human life and action, in their innermost nature and destiny, are, and are meant to become, responses to this gift of love that consists in God’s always loving us first, and indeed, in Jesus Christ, in loving us unto a suffering death.
Simply put: “Love is that which first brings each thing into existence, and that in and through and for which each thing continues in existence.” This is true of all creation. At its core, “reality is a gift that is always first to be received.”
For Schindler, these were not mere abstractions. They were the deepest of realities which guided his every step in this world. Schindler, the Dean Emeritus of the John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C., passed away on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, at the age of 79. His death leaves his family, friends, and numerous students bereft but also deeply grateful for the gift of his life, his kindness and humor, and the prodigious holy intellect he put at the service of the Church and Christ. For Schindler, everything was a gift and because he lived his life in gracious response to that gift, he was a tremendous gift to the world. He helped us see more deeply and clearly.
Indeed, I can think of no one else who has shaped my thinking more than Schindler—and I am confident there are many others who would say the same.
My own friendship with Schindler began on a beautiful fall evening in 2005 at the 50th birthday party of a mutual friend. Schindler was late because our beloved Fighting Irish, resurgent after a few down years, were playing the Purdue Boilermakers that night. Schindler snuck into the party late because he had been watching the first half of the game at a bar. At the party, we were seated next to each other and the small radio I’d smuggled in to check the score periodically allowed me to update Schindler on where things stood.
Our friendship deepened when I faced an open-heart surgery that Schindler had endured twice in his life. I asked him to lunch to discuss what lay before me. We met up at the old Colonel Brooks’ Tavern, the only passable restaurant in those days near Catholic University. Three hours into our lunch, we had yet to talk about the heart surgery, but our friendship was solidified. Later that summer, while I lay in Johns Hopkins Hospital recovering from surgery, Schindler made sure to visit and check in on me. He continued to do so after I returned home. I never officially was his student (though I did use my convalescence to audit his class), just a person who happened to be seated next to him at a birthday party. The generosity he showed me was multiplied many times over with all manner of people who came into his life. God’s love is superabundant and Schindler mirrored this in his own life.
While there have been and will be many more encomia for Schindler, I wanted to highlight just a few of the lessons he taught me over the years. Schindler had an incredible ability to go beyond conventional answers and pat explanations. He modeled that we should always push deeper into things, to discover things as they are rather than as they seem. I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with Schindler over the years where he exploded the governing assumptions that I—and the world—brought to bear on a particular question, showing me a whole new and deeper way of understanding the question.